(Repeats story published late on Thursday)
* German banks have up to $100 bln of ship loans -financiers
* Shipping industry slump could land them with big losses
* Lenders want to sell their debt but there are few buyers
* Graphic on global shipping slide: tmsnrt.rs/2cq2WWj
By Jonathan Saul and Andreas Kröner
LONDON/FRANKFURT, Sept 15 German banks are
struggling to recoup tens of billions of dollars of loans as a
global shipping industry slump hits them hard.
The lenders - among the biggest backers of shipowners over
the past 20 years - are behind up to a quarter of the world's
$400 billion of outstanding shipping loans, three shipping
financiers told Reuters.
This would make them collectively more exposed than banks
from any other single country in terms of outstanding debt to
These institutions are now grappling with a near decade-long
slump of parts of the shipping sector since the 2008 financial
crisis that is also hurting European peers, such as Britain's
Royal Bank of Scotland.
"German banks account for close to $100 billion of shipping
debt out of a world total of around $400 billion," said Dagfinn
Lunde, who spent more than a decade as head of shipping at
Germany's DVB Bank until the end of 2013.
The same estimates of German bank exposure and total sector
debt were made by two other shipping finance executives, who
declined to be named, citing the confidentiality of their
Lunde, now a board member of Norway's Maritime and Merchant
Bank, said German lenders had been "throwing money" at the
sector when shipping business was brisk. "When the values
tumbled, they were left with massive exposure to toxic debt."
As worsening conditions in the shipping sector leave some
shipowners unable to meet payments, it is unlikely that many
banks will see a full return on their investments. This could
leave them having to sell down their debt at a discount to
distressed buyers or to write off some of their loans.
The shipping difficulties come at a time when European banks
are already bogged down by a sluggish economy and face tough
capital demands from regulators which are eroding profitability.
Segments of the shipping industry are suffering their
deepest downturn ever as international trade slows. Around 90
percent of world trade is transported by sea.
South Korean container line Hanjin, which filed for
receivership on Aug. 31, is the latest casualty in a crisis
exacerbated by a glut of ships, many of which were built before
the financial crisis when the global economy was healthier.
"It seems like the shipbuilding and ship finance sectors are
... imploding," Anthony Gurnee, chief executive of ship operator
Ardmore Shipping Corp, told an industry conference in
London last week.
His comments echo remarks made by Stefan Ermisch, the chief
executive of shipping finance specialist HSH Nordbank,
who recently described the shipping sector as "on the floor".
Before the financial crisis, when a dry bulk ship or oil
tanker could earn over $200,000 a day, German banks were among
the most prominent financing players. Such vessels now command
around $10,000-$15,000 a day.
Banks' exposure varies widely across German lenders such as
Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank and state-backed
lender NordLB. Part of the risk stems from exposure to
closed investment funds - called KG houses - which bought ships
and leased them to big shipping companies.
Commerzbank and Deutsche Bank declined to comment on its
shipping finance activities and plans.
"For German shipowners, Hanjin is bad news as for them a
large company falls away with which they can charter their
ships," Oliver Faak, global head ship and aircraft finance at
NordLB, told Reuters.
He warned the outlook for the oil tanker market was
worsening. "Many shipping companies have ordered tankers that
are now being delivered. Supply is rising but the demand hasn't
Bankers said the scale of the lenders' potential losses from
the loans now depended on how strict the European Central Bank
would be in forcing them to tackle the problem.
In June, people familiar with the matter said the ECB had
launched a review of banks' shipping finance, raising concerns
among lenders that they may be required to set aside more
capital to cover possible losses.
A regulatory source familiar with ECB policy said the review
was an initial step. The ECB is currently analysing the data and
will likely take further measures afterwards, said the source,
adding: "The ECB suspects some European banks use too optimistic
models to calculate the value of shipping loans and ships."
The ECB declined to comment.
In the meantime, banks are trying to offload some debt.
Sources have told Reuters RBS is trying to sell its Greek
shipping business, which is valued at around $3 billion, as well
as up to $500 million of a separate portfolio of Turkish
NordLB said in August it was selling a $1.5 billion
portfolio of shipping loans to KKR Credit, part of private
equity firm KKR, and a sovereign wealth fund.
But one of the three shipping financiers said there were few
buyers. "The market is awash with distressed debt. Once again
the banks will be stuck."
Nicholas Tsevdos, managing director of Ocean Way Navigation,
a London-based shipping investor and asset manager, said the
outcome of RBS efforts to sell off its shipping exposure was
among the test cases being watched.
"If they fail to get buyers for the full books, it is not a
great incentive for others to do the same," said Tsevdos, whose
firm has advised on bank financing deals in recent months.
NordLB said earlier this year it aimed to cut its overall
shipping exposure to 12 to 14 billion euros ($16 billion) within
the next three years from 19 billion euros at the end of 2015.
NordLB's Faak said the banks would achieve "reduction
targets because they have to reach them".
"The only question is, at what price?"
($1 = 0.8903 euros)
(Editing by John O'Donnell and Pravin Char)